Non-toxic weed-killers save taxpayer money, protect health

Letter from Ted Jankowski, seacoastonline (Portsmouth NH), Aug 20, 2017

The city of Portsmouth claims it’s too expensive to kill sidewalk weeds in a way that doesn’t endanger our health. I disagree.

Simple math shows that the city is shelling out 13 times more of our tax dollars to spread expensive, potentially carcinogenic toxins to kill weeds on our sidewalks and public places than it cost us for a simple homegrown vinegar-based natural alternative! And using an off the shelf organic product would cost about the same as the city is spending now – not 10 times more as the city has claimed.

Here’s the detail: In an April 2017 report to the City Council, our city public works department claimed that it tried the organic herbicide Avenger, but that a “major drawback” was that it cost “up to 10 times” the price of conventional herbicides like Roundup or Rodeo.

This got my financial brain working – 10 times more expensive? After four outrageously time-consuming Right-to-Know law requests – that made me wonder why I couldn’t easily get this information online on the city website – I finally found out in April the city used Roundup Pro Max to kill weeds in our public places. An online check of Walmart retail prices showed that this costs $45.53 a gallon. Meanwhile, a gallon of the organic weed-killer Avenger costs $51.30 – about $6 or just 13 percent more – but its application doesn’t require expensive licensed chemical folks, so using it would save money or break even – not cost 10 times more. So what gives?

Then I decided to compare the cost of the weed-killer the city is using on our sidewalks and public places with the homegrown “weed-killer” we (and many others) use to kill weeds on our brick patio and gravel driveway. We use a mix of one gallon of white vinegar, two cups of Epsom salts, and quarter-cup of dish detergent, which I used just last Sunday. Three days later, even with a little rain in-between, all the weeds were dead down to the roots! The Walmart online cost for this very effective weed-killer? Only $3.29 per gallon versus $45.53 per gallon for Roundup Pro. The city has also stated that Roundup only needs to be used twice a year, so it’s a better deal. Guess what? We only need to use our vinegar-based remedy twice a year too!

So the basic math? The city is spending at least 13 times more ($45.53 per gallon for Roundup, roughly the same as the organic product if you factor in application savings for that versus $3.39 per gallon for a simple vinegar-based method) – to spread dangerous toxins to kill weeds in our public places – when a simple natural alternative costs 13 times less. (And none of this even considers the potential health costs of any adverse effects of human or canine exposure to toxic weed-killers).

Now the real question is why haven’t eight of our nine city councilors done this basic math? I encourage the City Council to look at the overwhelming scientific data on the dangers of toxic weed-killers and the real costs of using them.

Please follow the lead of many U.S. cities and other countries and vote for the city to immediately stop using toxic synthetic chemicals on public property, encourage toxin-free property maintenance, and educate property-owners in safe, organic ways to care for our property. Let’s switch immediately to proven, safe, organic, sustainable ways to kill weeds.

Please help us protect our kids, our pets, and our taxpayers’ wallets by making Portsmouth a non-toxic community!

Ted Jankowski is a former Portsmouth deputy city manager and Portsmouth resident.

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